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Lost Souls   D

New Line Cinema

Year Released: 2000
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Janusz Kaminski
Writer: Pierce Gardner
Cast: Winona Ryder, Ben Chaplin, John Hurt, Philip Baker Hall, Elias Koteas.

Review by Jeremiah Kipp

"I don't think I've seen such a violent response to a movie -- ever!" muttered my angry colleague after watching a furious audience boo, hiss and curse at the screen after Lost Souls. When we left the theater, said colleague complained that she never got to see El Diablo appear like a fiery dragon to wage war on humankind.

Without benefit of a special effects extravaganza to make up for the gaffes in logic, credibility, entertainment value or good craftsmanship, audiences were furious at the anti-climactic exchange between exorcist chick Maya Larkin (Winona Ryder) and the man who might be the Anti-Christ, Peter Kelson (Ben Chaplin). It's the moment of truth -- is he or is he not the devil man? Terse dialogue follows and then...

Think of the air going out of a balloon -- there's the ending of Lost Souls.

Indeed, movies such as this one make other recent Anti-Christ flicks like End of Days and Stigmata look like accomplished films. At least those films had a clear beginning, middle and end.

Ahem, on with the plot. A team of priests convene to exorcise the devil out of a criminally insane psycho named Henry Birdson (googly eyed John Diehl). We know it's all grim and portentous because the walls are gray and drab, the music is eerie and foreboding, the actors all look tense and grim, and every single light source coming through a doorway or window is blown out -- sorta like Heavenly Light! (In fact, every single shot in the movie has that Heavenly Light! Enough, already!)

John Hurt is the respectable British actor with the world-weary face who will perform this exorcism. He is joined by reliable character actor Elias Koteas as the Intense Stooge. Winona Ryder plays the Former Drug Addict Turned Exorcist Lady Who Was Once Exorcised Herself. The owner of the asylum tells them she doesn't want them to perform the ritual, but they don't listen. They're too terse to listen. They're on a mission.

WHAM! BAM! FLASHES OF WHITE LIGHT AND THE SCREAMS OF LEGIONS OF TORMENTED SOULS!

Five minutes later, the honorable John Hurt is in a coma. The lucky fellow pretty much gets to stay in bed for the rest of the movie, eyes closed. I'm happy he got a quick, easy paycheck.

Our valiant team of exorcists have discovered through this horrible ordeal that the Anti-Christ walks among us. It takes them a good hour to figure this out for certain, but the trailers pretty much blew the secret. Peter Kelson (Chaplin) will turn into the Son of the Devil on his 33rd birthday, which is creeping up pretty fast.

Poor Mr. Kelson -- he doesn't know he's Satan's spawn. He drifts through his mundane life as a crime reporter with a pretty girlfriend (Sarah Wynter) and a lovely New York apartment. His only problem seems to be his lack of religious faith and those terrible dreams he keeps having about a mysterious book. Sure enough, Winona Ryder pops up and tells him what's in store for him.

After the requisite "I don't believe you -- leave me alone, you crazy woman!" scenes, Ryder and Chaplin drive around the city searching for -- what? Proof that he's the devil? A way to stop him from becoming evil on his birthday? Means to get the devil out of him? A way to figure out how to save him without blowing his brains out? It's never clear exactly what they're after or hope to accomplish.

People chase after them for various and sundry reasons which go unexplained but are supposed to be scary. Statues of Jesus fall randomly. Dare I say some of the seemingly good guys are villains in disguise? What is Philip Baker Hall (the quiz show host from Magnolia) doing here as a mysterious uncle?

After watching a supporting character die before them, why do our two heroes go out for a cup of coffee and friendly chat 20 minutes later, behaving as if nothing is wrong?

Why is a murder suspect's house completely open to the general public? Wouldn't the police have boarded it up with yellow tape? Wouldn't some cops be on the scene?

Wouldn't it be better if the devil worshippers were chasing after the exorcist team and trying to kill them if they were interfering with the nefarious plan to bring the Anti-Christ into the world? Why are they so passive?

Details, baby, details.

And when will they stop using the bleach bypass process, painfully drawn out slow motion shots, rainy scenes and flashlights in dark rooms in "scary movies"...? I don't recall any of those elements playing any part in The Exorcist, which holds up remarkably well today!

Indulge me for a moment. I know this is the year of The Exorcist, which is a great movie and the high water mark of demonic possession films. However, haven't we had enough of the devil-man in 1999-2000?

Unfortunately, while those were all pretty lousy films, Lost Souls trumps each of them for being (a) incoherent, (b) laughable, (c) filled with characters who we aren't given the opportunity to care about, (d) laden with unconvincing performances (Ryder as an intense exorcist?) and (e) stuck with no bang in the finale.

Shame on Meg Ryan for producing this movie. Shame on director Janusz Kaminski, cinematographer on several of Spielberg's recent films, for making every dingy shot look the same. Shame on Winona Ryder for once again trying hard to be "moody and intense". If nothing else, I have faith in audiences who will, judging from the angry response at the screening, turn their backs on Lost Souls and bring an end to this exhausted trend in horror movies.

Review published 10.20.2000.

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